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January 02, 2007

A Great Piece On Gays In The Military

I cannot agree more with this column written by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili -- and indeed believe that he does not go far enough in his support for a change of policy.

TWO weeks ago, President Bush called for a long-term plan to increase the size of the armed forces. As our leaders consider various options for carrying out Mr. Bush’s vision, one issue likely to generate fierce debate is “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that bars openly gay service members from the military. Indeed, leaders in the new Congress are planning to re-introduce a bill to repeal the policy next year.

As was the case in 1993 — the last time the American people thoroughly debated the question of whether openly gay men and lesbians should serve in the military — the issue will give rise to passionate feelings on both sides. The debate must be conducted with sensitivity, but it must also consider the evidence that has emerged over the last 14 years.

We know that there are homosexuals int he military -- they are fighting and dying in Iraq. There are others who would gladly serve in our nation's military, if only they did not have to deny their sexuality. And ultimately, there is no legitimate reason for barring homosexuals from service.

But I think Shalikashvili does fall a little bit short.

But if America is ready for a military policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation, the timing of the change should be carefully considered. As the 110th Congress opens for business, some of its most urgent priorities, like developing a more effective strategy in Iraq, share widespread support that spans political affiliations. Addressing such issues could help heal the divisions that cleave our country. Fighting early in this Congress to lift the ban on openly gay service members is not likely to add to that healing, and it risks alienating people whose support is needed to get this country on the right track.

By taking a measured, prudent approach to change, political and military leaders can focus on solving the nation’s most pressing problems while remaining genuinely open to the eventual and inevitable lifting of the ban. When that day comes, gay men and lesbians will no longer have to conceal who they are, and the military will no longer need to sacrifice those whose service it cannot afford to lose.

Frankly, I believe that the American public and members of the armed forces would be less troubled by this change than the general suggests. Our society is more accepting of homosexual persons than it was 14 years ago, even though there is a line drawn at marriage. What is needed is an initiative as bold as that of Harry Truman when he desegregated the -- because now, like then, it is the right thing to do.





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